Creating a Trauma-Informed System of Care for Formerly Incarcerated Dads

Publication Date: August 30, 2019
Creating a Trauma-Informed System of Care for Formerly Incarcerated Dads Cover

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  • Published: 2019


Research Questions

  1. How can fatherhood programs apply the key elements of a trauma-informed system of care to their programming?
  2. What approaches can fatherhood programs use to identify and support fathers who may benefit from trauma related clinical mental health services?
  3. What resources and tools are available to fatherhood programs to support implementation of a trauma-informed system of care?

Many responsible fatherhood program participants have incarceration histories (Dion et al. 2018). Evidence is growing that many men with incarceration histories have experienced trauma early in and/or throughout life, and that experiencing trauma may complicate their efforts to reconnect with and support their families after incarceration.

The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) provided support for fathers in 2015 through two funding streams that are part of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) discretionary grant program. OFA awarded grants to community-based organizations for services specifically tailored to the needs of fathers in the process of transitioning from incarceration to their families and communities, known as the Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Re-entry and Mobility (ReFORM) programs. OFA also awarded grants for programs that serve fathers without regard to incarceration status or history, known as the New Pathways for Fathers and Families (NPFF) programs, more generally known as responsible fatherhood programs.

As part of the Parents and Children Together evaluation, funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Mathematica undertook a study of how trauma-informed approaches may be incorporated into Responsible Fatherhood programs for formerly incarcerated fathers.


The purpose of this brief is to describe how fatherhood programs serving men in reentry can infuse their programming with the principles and elements of a trauma-informed system of care to support fathers and staff who have experienced trauma. The brief also identifies resources that may help fatherhood programs implement a trauma-informed system of care.

Key Findings and Highlights

Key elements of a trauma-informed system of care are: an organizational commitment to a trauma-informed system of care, staff training in awareness of and appropriate response to trauma, and practices to foster healing and avoid further traumatization.

Fatherhood programs can conduct screenings to identify fathers who may benefit from clinical mental health services, and refer fathers who need further mental health assessments or clinical treatment to “in-house” clinical providers or external partners.

Fatherhood program staff could implement several nonclinical trauma-specific programs that support fathers with a trauma history. These programs are described in the brief.

Several tools and training resources, including trauma screeners, organizational assessments, and agencies that provide trainings, are available to fatherhood programs interested in implementing a trauma-informed system of care. These resources are described in the brief.


This brief is based on a review of the literature on trauma among incarcerated men, an environmental scan to identify programs that address trauma among fathers, discussions with a subset of programs and key experts in the field of trauma-informed care, and in-depth information gathered from multiple staff at five fatherhood programs.


Trauma-informed approaches :
focus on the ways in which an organization reflects its understanding of trauma and responds by applying trauma-informed principles throughout all levels of its standard services and operations—from how staff interact with participants during service delivery to written policy and leadership support.
Trauma-specific services :
are interventions to address trauma symptoms, such as clinical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Such interventions can be group-based or individual-based. Often, but not always, they require delivery by a mental health professional.
Trauma-informed system of care :
is considered an umbrella term that may encompass a trauma-informed approach, trauma-specific services, or both.
Current as of: